Pirates get Morris, but what about Wilson?

Former S.F. pitcher will be highest-paid player in team history

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The Pirates yesterday acquired starting pitcher Matt Morris, who will be the highest-paid player in the franchise's 121-year history, from the San Francisco Giants for outfielder Rajai Davis and a minor-league player to be named later.

Nam Y. Huh, AP Photo
Matt Morris was 7-7 with a 4.35 ERA in 21 starts for the Giants, including three complete games. But he has been rocked for 30 runs in his past five starts.
Click image for larger version.

And that, somehow, was overshadowed at Major League Baseball's trading deadline by a deal that did not get done.

Yet.

In the aftermath of general manager Dave Littlefield's only trade yesterday, the larger issue remained this: What will happen to shortstop Jack Wilson?

The Pirates and Detroit continued discussions yesterday about a trade that would send Wilson to the Tigers but, by all accounts, ran out of time in trying to determine how much of Wilson's contract -- he is owed $14.5 million the next two seasons -- the Pirates would have to pick up.

The catch is this: The deadline yesterday applied only to non-waiver trades. Players can continue to be traded until Aug. 31 as long as they clear waivers, which, given Wilson's contract, he almost surely would do.

Littlefield declined to comment on Wilson, dismissing the topic as "speculation." But sources on both sides confirmed that discussions were serious and will continue beyond the deadline yesterday.

Detroit general manager Dave Dombrowski, speaking to reporters last night in Oakland, Calif., refused to acknowledge any talks regarding Wilson.

Dombrowski, it should be noted, acquired infielder Neifi Perez in an August deal last year.

Count Wilson among those convinced it is not over.

He spent much of the past 48 hours getting phone calls about being traded to the Tigers, including several from Detroit. Tigers first baseman Sean Casey, a former teammate in Pittsburgh, called yesterday afternoon, and the two talked about how Wilson might fit in Detroit.

"I didn't really sleep last night, thinking something was going to happen," Wilson said. "And then, to keep hearing about it right up to the deadline ... but there's nothing so far, so I've got to go out there and play."

Does he think it is done?

"That's not what I'm hearing."

Wilson made it no secret that he would welcome a deal to Detroit, a World Series contender once again. And he said he would have no problem playing a reserve role or switching to second base.

"It would excite anybody, a chance like that," Wilson said. "Obviously, I signed on here to be a Pirate, and that's something I hold dear. But when your name is being discussed to go to a contender, you can't help but be a little excited."

Wilson's $5.5 million salary was the highest on the Pirates until the acquisition of Morris, which was jarring in several ways.

For one, Morris will take up roughly 20 percent of the Pirates' entire payroll, which now stands at $46.8 million without counting the $5.5 million in deferred money being paid to Jason Kendall.

His salary this season is $9.5 million, breaking the previous franchise high of $8,833,333 for Brian Giles in 2003. Morris also is due $9.5 million next season, has a club option for $9 million in 2009 with a $1 million buyout. There is an unusual $2 million signing bonus that is due at the expiration of the contract, but that will remain San Francisco's responsibility.

His total guaranteed money, including the prorated $3.34 million salary for this season, is $13.84 million.

That would appear to heighten the Pirates' urgency to clear Wilson's contract, especially if shortstop Cesar Izturis stays on the payroll next year through a $5.45 million club option.

The other surprising aspect of the Morris trade was the last-minute manner in which it went down.

San Francisco was eager to pare payroll, and general manager Brian Sabean was in talks with two contenders about taking Morris, who had been struggling of late and was open in expressing his discontent with the last-place Giants. But the Pirates swooped in late, Sabean said, and offered something no one else did: They would assume Morris' entire contract.

"Pittsburgh stepped up to take the player as is, with the contract," Sabean said.

Morris, a crafty, durable right-hander who will turn 33 Aug. 9, was 7-7 with a 4.35 ERA in 21 starts, including three complete games, for San Francisco. That includes a poor stretch in the past five starts, during which he has allowed 30 runs and 48 hits.

He was a 22-game winner in 2001 for the St. Louis Cardinals, finishing third in the Cy Young Award voting, but his elite status diminished significantly after shoulder surgery in late 2004: He is 31-32 with a 4.51 ERA since then.

Morris, who signed with the Giants as a free agent in late 2005, has career marks of 118-84 with a 3.83 ERA and five seasons of more than 200 innings.

"We've talked about acquiring a veteran starter the past couple seasons and haven't been able to acquire the guy we were looking for," Littlefield said. "I think Matt Morris is the right player who kind of fits in with what we're trying to do, someone to work with our young staff and be a workhorse for us."

Morris had some harsh words for the Giants last month, accusing them of losing their "focus," and he reiterated some of those criticisms in a conference call with the Pittsburgh media yesterday, saying of the environment with last-place San Francisco: "It's been hard. You almost learn to accept losing. I hate to say that, but it's true." He also called it "laid back."

Asked how he felt about coming to the Pirates, another last-place team, Morris replied: "It's exciting, a new opportunity. It will be nice to get some better defense, with the young guys there going all out."

Morris, who pitched Sunday for San Francisco, will join the Pirates today and make his debut this weekend, manager Jim Tracy said.

The Pirates also shopped relievers Shawn Chacon, Salomon Torres and Damaso Marte but, despite a trade market in which pitching of all kinds was drawing significant value, all stayed put.

Littlefield explained that he did not feel compelled to trade pitchers because all except Chacon, who can be a free agent this offseason, have their rights owned by the team through 2009.

"The important thing is that people are interested in our players," Littlefield said.

Littlefield had cited two goals in advance of the deadline: The other was to improve the offense, worst in the majors, and that was not addressed.

Davis, 27, was seldom used by Tracy since being promoted from Class AAA Indianapolis June 5, batting .271 in 24 games. It was not immediately clear how San Francisco will use him.

The player to be named later cannot be someone currently on the 25-man roster or major-league disabled list.


Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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